Just Another Day In Indonesia…

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Idul Fitri Number Two

[written on Thursday, August 8th – not published until now due to lack of interent and laziness]


It’s really interesting being here for a second round of the biggest holiday in Indonesia. I assumed it would be the same as the previous year, but that’s silly – Christmases are different every year, even if you do the same activities. Obviously it’s the same for Idul Fitri.


Last year I woke up on the morning of Idul Fitri to an empty house. Everyone in the whole neighborhood went to the mosque and I was alone. It was strangely quiet, after a month of mosques blaring, fireworks, and people up at all hours of the day and night. It was nice to have the house to myself but I wondered what was going on at the mosque. I continued to wonder and I felt a little jealous when I talked to other PCVs that went with their family to the mosque, either for the special evening prayer every night during Ramadan or on the morning of Idul Fitri. I knew my family wasn’t trying to exclude me but rather showed their respect for the fact that I am Christian, not Muslim, by not asking me to participate in Muslim traditions if I don’t want to. But the thing is, I did want to go to the mosque; I was just too shy to ask. I was talking to a PCV about this a few days ago and she said, “It’s an American thing. We don’t want to invite ourselves to things.” That’s probably true, and it’s also a personality thing. Even in situations when I could just directly ask for something* I tend to beat around the bush and hope the other person will offer. I don’t want to ask for something and face rejection or make the person feel uncomfortable. So, it makes sense that I have almost never invited myself to something with the family – I always wait to be invited. This year, as Ramadan came to a close, I realized I really did want to join my family. This will probably be the only time in my life I’m living in a predominantly Muslim country during Ramdan and what a cool experience it is! I would just have to take charge of the situation and ask. So, I did. And my ibu said yes, of course I could come and I could bring my camera. [Photos coming soon – when the internet at school actually works and I can upload photos again.]


This morning I found myself strolling down the street as the sun arose with my host family and all my neighbors following. Everyone gathered at the small mosque and I sat across the yard at a friend’s house and took pictures. Since the prayers/message from the imam was all in Arabic and Javanese, I didn’t understand anything beyond the word “dhahar” (formal Javanese for “eat”)** but it was still meaningful to gather with my community and see how they celebrate their most important holiday.


After the mosque, we came home and I napped. I came down with a cold the night before Idul Fitri – perfect timing for a holiday when you’re required to shake hands with everyone you meet…at least two times. Post-nap the family gathered to ask forgiveness. Children have to ask their parents for forgiveness first by saying, “Minal Aidzin Walfaidzin” (Arabic)/ “Mohon Maaf Lahir dan Batin” (Indonesian) which loosely translates to “I’m sorry for the mistakes I’ve made towards you.” The child must salim (raise the hand of their parent to their cheek or forehead in a sign of respect) their parent and then apologize. Then, they shake hands with everyone else. This can often be a very emotional moment for families. In my house, I salim-ed my ibu and apologized to both my ibu and bapak and shook hands with the rest of the family and wished them a Happy Idul Fitri. Then we all went to my host aunt’s house – she is the oldest of my bapak’s siblings, and though she is Christian, she still celebrates Idul Fitri with her neighbors and family (as do many Christians here). We all salim-ed her and she was so touched; there were not many dry eyes in that house.


Then it was finally time to eat breakfast! It’s quite a change going from eating breakfast at 3 AM for a month to getting up around 4 or 5 but waiting until 8:30 to eat. We were hungry! Traditionally, people cook chicken here for the holiday. We grow, kill, and cook our own chickens here and, in the spirit of the holiday, I even forewent my vegetarianism to try a little bit. After breakfast, I took another nap.*** The other adult children in the family went to ask forgiveness from their other parents/parents-in-law.


Around 10, it was time to start making the rounds to the neighbors. Idul Fitri is all about visiting people. The idea is similar to asking forgiveness from your parents – you want to show respect and apologize for any mistakes you’ve made (apologizing is big here). Usually, you go to someone’s house, shake the hand of everyone in the house, sit down, eat a snack and drink something, make small talk, and then say “ayo” (“Let’s go”) and shake everyone’s hand again as you leave. If you’re lucky enough to be a child, that second handshake will include an envelope with a little bit of cash. It’s like trick-or-treating…but better. In my experience, people aren’t actually apologizing during these visits, but the fact that they came to the house is really important and will be remembered all year long (especially if you happen to be an American visitor and they take your picture – very memorable).


I was traveling with a big crew, which included three of my adult host siblings, my host nephew, my host brother-in-law and his siblings and their spouses and children. There were three things that stuck out to me as I went from house to house. The first was that even though most of the people I was with are not family members I interact with on a daily basis (and some I only see once or twice a year), they all treat me like a real member of the family. Sometimes I interact with people who treat me like an animal in the zoo. They want to stare and take my picture and they talk loudly as if my foreignness implies that I am deaf or stupid or both. I am so very lucky that no one in my family or extended family**** acts like that. Instead, they treat me like an adult. They don’t even try to show me off, though they will answer other people’s questions about me, which saves me from saying the same thing a hundred times. In short, they (extended family included) are the best host family. Period. The second thing was that I realized that the majority of the people I was going house-to-house with were Christian! One of my host brother-in-law’s siblings converted through marriage and had three boys and I didn’t even realize until a couple weeks ago that they were not Muslim. That’s another testament to the awesomeness of my host family – they truly treat people the same, regardless of their religion. This is just another reason why I feel so comfortable with them. And, finally, I really enjoy going to my neighbors’ houses. It’s pretty eye-opening to see the insides of the houses I pass everyday. Most are very simple – something I did not realize until Idul Fitri last year because my house is relatively nice and I assumed my neighbors’ were all the same as mine. But even the simple ones are full of character. There are always pictures and posters of kids and grandkids and weddings. Some are full of Javanese cultural symbols, like wayang. Others have Arabic signs hanging over every door. You really get a better sense of a person when you see their house. I wish we had a similar ceremony in the States. I think it would do people good to go into their neighbors’ houses once a year.


After hours of visiting houses, it was time for nap number three. I crashed in my bed and slept straight through all the visitors who were sitting in the guest room just outside my door. One benefit of living in Indonesia for a year is that I can now sleep through fireworks exploding, mosques blaring, children screaming, cats howling, and guests sitting outside my room. In the evening, I stayed at home and helped host – which means I shook hands with everyone who came through the door. It’s like Halloween, you just wait to see who will come and then you give them snacks/candy. Unlike Halloween, it leaves me rather exhausted and it continues for a solid week. Day One down, only six more to go!


[Obviously, Idul Fitri has long since ended and I do have photos, coming soon!]


* Recently, at our Mid Service Conference I had a conversation with my counterpart and a couple other volunteers where we joked about how I’m more culturally Javanese and she is more American. The other volunteers were surprised and asked for an example. Bu Chris astutely told them that if I want something, I won’t ask her directly. Instead, I just bring up the topic and talk in circles until she figures it out. It’s true – guilty as charged.


**I assume everyone was encouraged to gorge themselves on snacks later in the day…at least, that’s what I did.


***This is starting to sound like a Beseda holiday


**** With the exception of a couple family members that I met during Idul Fitri last year…luckily I don’t have to see them more than a couple times a year

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A Long Hiatus

I’m back online after a two-week internet hiatus and a much longer blogging hiatus. It’s been too long. During my trip home many of my friends told me they read my blog and I was really touched to hear that because I didn’t know so many people were keeping up with what I’m doing here. Naturally, I was inspired to blog more and of course I have utterly failed to even write one post since going home. My apologies, loyal friends.

A brief recap of the recent months:

In June I went home and had a lovely time. I didn’t have any troubles adjusting to the food or time difference but culture shock hit a little when I saw how clean and fresh everything was. I forgot what grass smelled like. And the first night back I couldn’t sleep because it was so silent. I didn’t have the lullaby of crickets, frogs, mice/rats, cats, geckos, TV blaring, motorcycles roaring past the house, people shouting, and mosques call-to-prayer-ing. Believe it or not, I can sleep through those noises now and I genuinely missed them when I was in America. I had to wear earplugs to block out the silence so I could sleep. I also had trouble walking on the right side of the sidewalk. I wondered why all the other pedestrians were walking around me like I was an obstacle – that’s why I realized I naturally walk on the left side of the road after one year in Indonesia. I was cold practically all of the time. I missed my warm blanket of humidity (words I never thought I’d say).

Being with my family was simply amazing. I love them and I loved every minute I spent at home. We did so many activities. I went to the beach, Becca and I moved David home from college for the summer, I went strawberry picking with Mom and Hannah, I had a family BBQ, I visited Sellwood Pool for Hannah’s first ever day of work, and so on. I got to see my favorite Portland people (shout out to Elizabeth and Olivia!) and go to church three times. I ate lots of great food. After about a week and a half of that I went up to Seattle where I visited many of my college friends, visited my old office where I worked for nearly 5 years, and – most importantly – got to be a bridesmaid in Charis and Josh’s wedding. It was an honor and a ton of fun. That whole weekend was so special and I’m pretty sure I was still glowing afterwards for at least a few weeks. Then it was back to Portland for a few more days of family time and running errands and then I was on my way back to Indonesia.

Coming back to Indonesia was just as smooth of a transition as going home. I was surprised. I expected to feel really homesick when I first got back but I felt right at home when that first blast of humidity hit me in the Jakarta airport. I loved being able to communicate in Indonesian with the people around me – so much so that I practically accosted the gentleman sitting next to me on the plane in my eagerness to speak Indonesian. He coolly responded in English. After a sketchy ride home with a potentially drunk driver, my wonderful host family picked me up from the side of the road at 5 AM and I was back.

I was a little concerned that my language skills would be rusty after a few weeks in the States but there was no better way to brush up on them than instant immersion. After crashing for a few hours at home I got to go visit my brand-new 5-day-old host niece (along with the entire extended family – none of whom speaks a word of English). Baby Aqila is absolutely adorable and I got to witness and photograph her hair-cutting ceremony that took place when she was one week old. No promises, but hopefully there will be a blog post about this coming soon.

July a month full of language camp, VAC meetings, and our Mid Service Conference (aka, tons of PCV time). School started slowly and then stopped again so everyone could start fasting. Then, school resumed with a shortened schedule. I met my classes a couple times and then in August we had another two week break for the Idul Fitri holiday. That was my recent two weeks sans internet. Blog post coming very soon (tomorrow?) about my second Idul Fitri here. After the festivities I spent a few days at the beach in Pacitan with some friends. We cooked extravagant meals, swam in the ocean, read books, played games, and relaxed. It was one of my favorite vacations so far and I can’t wait to go back.

Now school is back in session (for reals) and I’m staying quite busy grading pre-assessment tests, making posters for the classroom, and mapping out this semester. In my down time I’m trying to cook more and do more yoga and hopefully blog more and describe different cultural experiences I’ve had here. I’m really excited for this second year – it’s gonna be a good one.

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Recently I took part in an awesome and inspiring 2-night, 3-day camp for female students called iGLOW: Indonesian Girls Leading Our World. I had been part of the planning process for the camp for months. Last year was the first year there was a GLOW camp in Indonesia, but they are common in many Peace Corps countries. This year we expanded to four camps across East Java!

The goals of the camp are for girls to develop new friendships, work together, build self-confidence, reach for high goals, and generally be empowered to be strong leaders. This is especially important in a country where boys and men traditionally are given leadership roles while girls and women play more subservient roles. When asked why this is the case, the answer given is often tied to religion or cultural customs but the truth is there are plenty of strong (and religiously devout) Indonesian female leaders. Camp iGLOW recruited some of these women to speak to the students about topics covering gender stereotypes, inner beauty, health & nutrition, reproductive health, higher education, leadership, healthy relationships, human trafficking, and more. When the girls weren’t in sessions they spent time in small groups creating posters, preparing for a talent show on the last day, doing early morning exercise (senam, yoga, or basketball), dancing together during our bonfire/dance party, and more. I certainly didn’t sleep much (maybe 3 or 4 hours a night?) and I’m sure the girls didn’t either, but fun was had by one and all, and good lessons were learned.

The camp concluded with the a closing ceremony where the girls read this commitment (in bahasa Indonesia) together:

1. Personal Commitment

a. I promise to love myself for my beauty inside as well as out.

b. I promise to never settle for anything less than what’s best for me in relationships, with my body, the opportunities I allow for myself and for my future.

c. I promise to never give up on what I’m passionate about.

2. Commitment to share knowledge with women in your community

a. I promise to share the skills and knowledge I’ve gained at iGLOW Day with the other students at my school and members of my community.

b. I promise to become a leader in advancing the role/image of women and girls at my school and in my community.

3. Commitment to promoting the image of strong women around the world

a. I promise to continue working to promote a positive image of Indonesian women and women around the world.


I think my photos can tell the rest of the story.

To all the lovely PCVs who helped with Camp iGLOW, keep glowing!!



Ice breakers – “find a friend”



Meeting in their small groups for the first time


Early morning senam


Sessions! This one is leadership.


Making posters about healthy relationships


The “Sit” Game – working together


Most of our amazing speakers (mostly this picture is proof that I attended the camp because, as the photographer, I was rarely in the photos!)


Talent Show at the end of the weekend


The pink group posing with the iGLOW Flag that each group contributed to


(almost) all of us!



Me and my fabulous eight iGLOW girls.

For more photos, see my facebook!

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One Year Reflections, Part Two [Lessons Learned]

I promised a post about the projects I’ve worked on over the last year and I started writing it and basically bored myself to sleep. It’s not that I’m not interested in talking about these projects but after a while it sounded way too much like my VRF (Volunteer Report File) that I have to fill out three times a year. I’d rather write about the different themes I’ve noticed in myself and my experience over the past year, so here we go.


People make my experience what it is.

My last post really elaborated on this. What I forgot to share about are the other volunteers I am privileged to know. My group, ID6, is the third batch of volunteers here in Indonesia since the program reopened in 2010. I may be biased but I think my group totally rocks. There’s so many cool, inspiring, fun people. Most of us met up recently to meet the new batch of volunteers, ID7. I hadn’t seen several of my friends since our training last October so it was great to have a reunion (even if it was brief). We ate non-Indonesian food, we told stories, we vented, we met the new trainees, and then we partied like rock stars for the last time with the batch of PCVs that came before us, ID5. We didn’t sleep much, but it was worth it. And as for ID7, they seem awesome. I’m pumped to have them here, and they seem like a great group. I was especially excited to meet two volunteers from SE Portland! What a small world! I got to spend even more time with then when I helped as a resource volunteer during TEFL training last week (look for an upcoming post on this).


I love teaching.

I guess I knew this before Peace Corps, but my service has only confirmed it: I do really like being in the classroom and working with students. I like helping people understand a new concept or idea. I like being silly with my students and making them laugh. I hope I’ve made English fun for them. The truth is, English won’t be important in all of their lives (maybe not even many of their lives) but I hope that the experience of learning something in a new way has been beneficial to them. This leads to my next point, which is…


Teaching English is not that important to me.

I do think English can provide opportunities for my students but I’ve never been that passionate about teaching English in particular. What I do love is when my counterpart and I will use teaching English as a method to start a deeper conversation, like when we asked students to write essays on one thing they would change at their school. I also love using the material to bring up important topics, like teaching announcements by showing video clips of PSAs about topics my CP identified as affecting the lives of our students (reckless driving, peer pressure, smoking, etc). But teaching grammar? Not my cup of tea.


I’m adaptable.

Again, I knew this before Peace Corps (my mom told me this before I even came here) but it’s fairly easy for me to adapt to new situations, especially when traveling/living in another country. It’s usually harder for me to adapt back to the ‘familiar’ at home…maybe because I change with each new experience and I have to negotiate what those changes mean when I find myself returning home to a situation that looks and feels the same as when I left.


I’m less scared of things.

Spiders, mice, rats, cockroaches, snakes…you name it, we’ve got it. And while I don’t like these creatures, I’m more likely to laugh when I see a mouse run across the room than scream and run away. (I do still ask my host dad to kill/remove any large critter that makes its way into my room, though.)


Internet is a precious resource…

…and all too often Indonesia feels like it’s running short. (But, seriously, I do not understand internet here and why it so often shuts off or stops working.)


Indonesia could make me an introvert.

Every time I’ve done one of those personality tests I’m always split between introvert and extrovert. On the one hand, I love being with people, I feed off that energy, I’m a verbal processor, and I don’t really like being alone. On the other hand, I don’t like big groups. I find those exhausting, and I prefer small groups of people where you can have more meaningful conversation. Also, I don’t really like being labeled and I don’t feel like I fit the extrovert or introvert category to a tee, so why choose? But my time in Indonesia is fostering the introvert side of me. Before I came here, by far my biggest concern was isolation. I was afraid of being away from people because maybe I needed them by nature of who I was. Well, if that was true, I came to the right island – Java is the most densely populated island in the world. Living with a host family has been ideal for me because there are people around but I’m not necessarily doing activities with them all the time. But at the same time I’ve grown much more comfortable with silence and solitude and if I don’t have a couple hours to drink tea and read books in the evening then I feel too busy/overly stimulated (put another way, Indonesia could be turning me into a grandma).


I like to delegate.

Clearly, my dad has raised me well because my dad is one of the best delegators around (case in point, he always “delegated” all household chores to us kids and told us his role in cleaning the house was finished – he was the delegator). Anyway, whenever I can I prefer to delegate responsibilities, especially to student leaders. Students here don’t get too many opportunities to have real leadership and responsibility, unless they join scouts or OSIS (think student council). Our English Club elected student leaders for the first time this year and I push them to think of activities, help plan and lead, etc. It makes less work for me, which is nice, but more importantly it teaches students responsibility. Sometimes the activities flop and that’s ok. If I rescued them every time that happened they would just depend on me to be the one in charge all the time. I want to empower them to be able to make decisions and problem solve. Long story short: I’m passionate about youth development and it’s been exciting to see my students grow in their confidence, leadership skills, and critical thinking skills.


I am a product of my environment.

Recently I’ve received some kudos from fellow volunteers for the “success” I’ve had in my community. My gut reaction is to deflect this because I don’t think the successes here are due to my presence as much as the fact that I have wonderful people to work with. The truth is, my community is unique. My area is more religiously diverse (and tolerant), more liberal – and by that I mean more accepting of differences and less strictly conservative, and more progressive than other areas in East Java where PCVs live. A few examples: around my town there are eight churches. They may be small but that’s a very high number for an area in East Java. My Catholic counterpart can discuss God in class without it being a divisive topic because there is a genuine level of respect for people with different opinions (and she’s clearly not trying to convert anyone). The fact that students can dance at my school – and dance Gangnam Style at that! – shows that my school is more liberal than many of my friends’ schools (it helps that it’s not a religious high school). Clothing is less restrictive here; girls wear knee-length shorts, less girls and women wear veils (though that doesn’t mean they are opposed to the veil but for one reason or another they have chosen not to be veiled…topic for another post). And perhaps it’s a bold claim to say my area is more progressive than others but I’m basing that partly on facts…girls in my area are more likely to work or go to college after high school and the average age of marriage is higher here than in other places….and partly I’m basing this on observation: last week the teachers in my regency protested because they were unhappy with the process for choosing principals and the fact that their bonuses would be taken away. I haven’t heard of teachers protesting in any other area before. Anyway, these are just a few examples to give you an idea of the environment I’ve been placed in. I’ve done lots of exciting and inspiring things with my counterparts and my students, but I think it’s really because they are awesome people who are ready to work hard. Maybe I’ve been a catalyst but I’m not the reason for success; rather, my “success” is a product of my environment.


I love having a sense of home here.

Recently every time I have gone on vacation I’ve had stressful travel experiences and I just can’t wait to go home. I like home. I can relax here.

Here’s a story from yesterday that illustrates how I feel about being here for one year:

I’m riding home on a borrowed bicycle after ketoprak (Javanese drama) practice. I’m definitely feeling like a Peace Corps Volunteer because I’m reminded, again, that I am not allowed to ride on a motorcycle. Every single teacher and student at the practice rode a motorcycle (the one who drove me in a car had left early) and I was stuck until someone kindly lent me a bike. So I’m biking and as I leave the house where we had practice I feel the stares of people who have not seen me before. I hear people yelling, “Hello, bule, how are you?” I can’t decide if I prefer being called “bule” or “mister.” How about neither. I stare straight ahead, concentrating on avoiding the potholes. This road is so bad, I think this borrowed bicycle will fall to pieces. I turn onto the road that leads past school to home, three kilometers to go. These potholes are familiar to me. I know when to swerve to the left and the right, I know when to slow down because motorcyclists might suddenly turn in front of me. I stop at the bridge to take a picture of the breathtaking view that never ceases to amaze me. I live in a beautiful place. Now I’m only two kilometers away. This is where I start to feel like I’m at home. Suddenly I find myself in the middle of a throng of people setting up something that looks like carnival. Actually, what is really looks like is Last Thursday on Alberta Street in the summer, minus the pot and alcohol. As I push my way through the crowd I get more stares and I hear lots of “bule” comments from people who don’t know me. But then I see the head of the village who greets me with, “Hello, Sarah!” and I feel known. I bike on and yell a greeting as I pass my counterpart’s mother. I’m close to school. A student who I don’t teach drives me and says hello to me. I bike on, only one kilometer from home. The children from down the street yell, “Miss Saraaaaah!” as I pass by. I turn right, onto my street. I nod to the elderly man who sits on his porch and waves and monggo’s me every afternoon. I see my neighbors and I say hi. “Going home?” they ask. “Yes,” I reply. And now I’m almost to my house. And down the street, so far that I can hardly see, one of the elementary school kids jumps up and down and waves his arm at me. I turn into my house where my family exclaims, “Sarah’s home! It’s so late!” I see my host brother, sister, nephews, mother…and I feel known.


This is how I know I’ve been here for one year. I’m not merely a bule to everyone. I’ve created ties with these people in this place and it’s good.


I’m looking forward to the next year here.

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One Year Reflections, Part One [The People]

This is the big one, the post reflecting on (more than) one year in Indonesia. I arrived last April 4th to a country that was strange and exciting. I remember my big concerns were 1) mosquitoes, 2) hot weather, 3) spicy food, 4) making friends, 5) missing my family and friends (not necessarily in that order). After one year I can say that none of these are a big concern now! It’s certainly hot but I’ve adjusted. I continue to miss my family and friends (more on that later) but I’ve established a sense of home here and I’ve made new friends (volunteers and Indonesians alike!) and I’ve found a new family in my lovely host family and a “keluarga besar” (“big family” – their phrase, but I agree wholeheartedly) in my school community. The months have flown by, despite some days where the hours drag on, and now it’s time to take a step back and reflect.

I’ve been at site for ten (eleven?) months now and I’m busier than ever. My weekly activities include teaching Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. On Wednesdays I lesson plan with my three counterparts and occasionally I have MGMPs which is a meeting with all the English teachers to collaborate and share ideas. I was hoping for MGMPs to be a steady weekly activity but second semester in Indonesia is just crazy and there have been so many class cancellations and irregular days that this hasn’t happened. We’ll keep trying. On Fridays I don’t go to school (yay!) but I keep busy with an afternoon les for elementary school kiddos. Wednesdays are my new speaking les for my high schoolers that I mentioned in my previous post. Thursdays are English Club after school. Saturdays I have my own language class with my amazing tutor, Seno, who was quickly become one of my closest friends at site (more on this later). Sundays are free from weekly commitments but I usually find plenty of things to keep me busy – including doing my laundry and cleaning my room. When you add my responsibilities for VAC and planning iGLOW to the list, it’s easy to see how I fill my time. (But keep in mind that most weeks have canceled days so I haven’t had a full week with all these activities in at least a month!)

Most of these activities are enjoyable and energize me, especially when my cps and I teach a good lesson or when I get to do activities with my students. Lesson planning is not so invigorating but it’s really important for sustainability and I’m blessed to have cps who are motivated, hard-working, and patient with me. Currently, my favorite activity is my new speaking les. I really enjoy hearing my students share more of their opinions, ideas, and experiences. I’m also glad to have a chance to gently correct some common mistakes. They’re eager to learn and they’re fun to be around. I always think of them as my adik-adik (little siblings) more than my students. As I spend time with my students (in speaking les, English club, Friday les, and during our random activities like cooking together) and read their English journals I realize that the single most important part of my service has been developing relationships with these students. They are so bright and creative and inquisitive. They trust me too, and they ask for advice on everything. It reminds me of my days of being a PA (resident advisor for you non-SPUers) when I oversaw an all freshman floor and I got all sorts of questions. Besides the obvious English questions, my students ask me for advice on how to grow taller like an American, how to eat a healthy diet, how to study effectively, how to forgive their friends who hurt them, how to make new friends, how to be more independent from their parents (but also respectful), how to mange their time, how to deal with a teacher they dislike, and how to increase their self-confidence…and don’t even get me started on the relationship advice! They aren’t afraid to ask questions about my experience on everything from relationships to drinking alcohol to balancing work and school commitments. Sometimes I don’t know how to answer them. A few weeks ago I got the question, “Miss, what is the opposite of a virgin?” In a culture that is quite conservative and highly religious, I’m amazed and impressed by the openness with which my students approach some of these topics (three cheers for my brave students!). I’m glad that I’m a safe person for my students to talk to, and I don’t take the responsibility lightly. Of course I have to be careful with my responses to make sure they are culturally appropriate and respectful but I think I’ve done ok so far (knock on wood). Overall, I’m just really honored to have my students open up to me and let me into their lives. It’s a gift.

On the home front, I absolutely love my host family. This is the perfect situation for me. Before I moved to site I was really worried that this wouldn’t be a good fit. I wanted a big host family with younger children. Instead my form said there was a host mother and father in their sixties and a son in his thirties. I was afraid I would lonely and maybe my host brother would be a creep. I couldn’t have been more wrong. First of all, my host family has three more adult children, two of whom are married with kids of their own. One, Bu Udin, is pregnant so there will be a new baby in the family in June! I’m excited. Secondly, my host brother is great and not a creep at all. On the contrary, he deserves an award for dropping me off at the train station at 4 AM on countless occasions, picking me up from said train station at 2 AM once, and picking up my friends from the bus/train every time they come to visit. And finally, my house is the neighborhood hub. Many of the neighbors are relatives but even the ones who aren’t come and go freely. The neighborhood kids love hanging out here and most of them come for extra lessons from my host sister Bu Nova, my ibu, or me. I think this situation is unique, even for Indonesia. I’ve visited other volunteers and I’ve been to many houses of Indonesian friends and counterparts and my house is one of the most open and inviting places of all the ones I’ve been to. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I love spending time with people at my house. I make a point to talk with my ibu every day, sometimes at dinner, sometimes sitting on the porch in the afternoon, and fill her in on whatever is going on. I think this has really helped my language skills and it makes me feel that much more comfortable here. And there’s something wonderful about just sitting on the porch and chatting. I want this to always be part of my life. I’ve also discovered that my host family knows basically everything so they are excellent resources if I have any questions or need anything. And the icing on the cake is that they are willing to try whatever concoction I whip up in the kitchen, which is more than I can say about most of my other Indonesian acquaintances!

Speaking of language skills, I have a wonderful tutor who I meet with most Saturdays. Seno is a college student in her sixth semester studying English (the same age as my brother). She’s probably more fluent in English than anyone I know here (especially because she is still studying the language daily) and I thought that might be a barrier to me really learning bahasa Indonesia when we met together. Sometimes I do slip into just using English but I think it’s helped a lot to be able to explain things in more than one language. More importantly, Seno has become one of my closest friends. We talk about anything and everything during our meetings. Seno is passionate about many things I’m passionate about, including justice and equality and women’s issues and teaching students well and asking good questions. If I need advice, I ask Seno what she would do. If I need to vent, I tell her what’s going on (and try to explain it in bahasa Indonesia). Seno also helps me with my Friday les and she’s great with kids. She will be an excellent teacher someday. Besides language class, sometimes we just hang out and that’s wonderful. Seno is really my only friend who is close to my age at site and I miss interacting with my peers so my Saturday afternoon class has quickly become one of my favorite times of the week.

It’s not all rainbows and butterflies. While many relationships have been blossoming, some have been rocky. Without going into too much detail on a public blog, I’ve had more trouble working with older Indonesians, especially the ones who are in positions of power or authority due to age or position. These people are always treated with deference and respect and when I am frustrated with one of their decisions, I’m unsure how to handle this in a culturally respectable manner. My rebellious streak always comes out, the part of me that says “I won’t obey unless I agree and think this rule is reasonable!” When I work hard for something and someone in authority vetoes it I immediately want to fight back. These are the days when I feel most American and most different from people around me. The good news is that I’ve seen growth in these areas. Honestly, I just needed an attitude change plus heaps of patience and kindness.

And then there’s the relationships I’m missing…one year may have flown by but when I think about people from home I definitely feel like it’s been a long time. I miss my family like a constant dull ache. I think of them all the time and I’ve been lucky to be able to use skype, email, and phone calls to stay in touch. But missing birthdays and holidays and spring breaks and plays/recitals and more is still hard. The truth is, I’ve always been close with my family and I never went more than two or three months without seeing them until now. I have some friends who have been constant and steady in communicating with me. They are my supports. But the reality is most people aren’t as good with long-distance communication and everyone is busy, including me. Really crappy internet and a 14 hour time difference doesn’t help. I haven’t talked to most of my friends since January or earlier. I miss them a lot. I even have vivid dreams where we’re hanging out, and, when I wake, I’m always sad to realize it was only a dream. I’m coming home in less than ONE MONTH, and, oddly enough, that’s made me miss people more. Maybe it’s because I can practically count down the days until I see them again. It’s a reality now, not just a long and distant future hope.

When I focus on what I am doing here, I am so content. I’m very glad to be a PCV. Overall, I love life in Indonesia. I’ve developed beautiful relationships with my host family, my coworkers, my students and more…I’m glad I have another year to spend with them. But when I think about home I realize that it is a sacrifice being here. I am giving up time I could spend with people at home. At the end of day, my world has expanded. I’ve set down roots in twojkjnk places. I have a rich life here in Indonesia, though I simultaneously miss my former life in Portland and Seattle. But it’s worth it. I’ve been stretched and changed and I’m looking forward to another year of crazy, new experiences before I head off into the great unknown post-Peace Corps (and that’s a hint, don’t ask me what I’m doing after PC because I have no idea!). Thank you, friends and family, for all your support. I’m able to do what I do because I have people helping me by listening to vent (especially my fellow PCVs), encouraging me, praying for me, and occasionally sending me chocolate. For my fellow ID6s, congratulations on one year! We’re doing it.

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Three Months, One Post

First and foremost, I have to wish a HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my baby sister Hannah! Today marks her second birthday that I’ve spent in Indonesia and I miss her dearly.

A lot has happened since I last blogged. The lag in blogging hasn’t been entirely intentional. Both my external hard drive and my internal hard disk broke since my last post and my computer was out of commission for almost a month. I’m happy to say that everything is fixed, it wasn’t expensive (thank goodness I had a warranty), and I didn’t lose anything. It’s SO nice to have my laptop back.

One of the highlights of the last few months was having Zach and Amanda Banker pay a visit during February. It was lovely having friends from home come and see my little corner of the world. The Bankers were the first non-PCV visitors I’ve had and it was a totally different experience having to explain things that are so normal to me that I don’t even think about them now. When I gave them the tour of my house I went outside and said, “And this is the mandi” without even thinking about it. “What’s mandi?” they asked. I had to laugh at myself. Usually when my volunteer friends come over we mix English with some bahasa Indonesia words, as there are some concepts that just make more sense in bahasa Indonesia. It was strange to be in my house and use only English with my friends. But I got plenty of practice with my bahasa Indonesia as I translated back and forth. Ironically, I think my language skills (and confidence) really improved during the Bankers’ visit. They spent a week at my site and got to meet my coworkers, students, and neighbors. We celebrated Valentine’s Day with two parties and they got to watch some of my eleventh graders perform horror story skits. They were kind enough to teach my classes for a day and I think their presentation and stories really opened my students’ eyes to a world outside of Indonesia. After leaving my village we went to Surabaya to fix my hard drive (I am eternally grateful that problems arose while Zach was here to help me fix them!) and on from there to the small island of Gili Air. Getting there was…rough. The journey really deserves a blog post and a half but I’m not going to relieve that trip in this post. The trip there plus ticket troubles plus credit card issues meant the trip wasn’t quite as relaxing as I anticipated but it was still worth every minute to get to spend time with good friends while eating delicious food, relaxing in hammocks, reading books, playing cards…and I got to swim with turtles one day. I was sad to say goodbye to the Bankers but look forward to the next time I get to see them (and I wonder what country that will be in?). 

I came home from Gili Air, blinked, and it was March. Second semester in Indonesia can be summed up in two words: class cancellations. During April the 12th graders have national exams and during February and March they have practice exams as well as final exams for normal classes…usually classes for 10th and 11th graders are canceled during those testing weeks. My school is a little unique in that we have testing in the morning and classes in the afternoon. Instead of coming to school at 7 and wrapping up by 2 I found myself starting school at 12:30 and finishing at 5. Besides these testing days we had a couple holidays thrown in (Balinese New Year, Good Friday) and needless to say, it’s been chaotic. Sometimes I won’t see one of my classes for two weeks. You’d think I would have oodles of free time on my hands but somehow I’ve been busier than ever. My students and I have doing lots of activities together. One of our holidays we took a day trip to visit the grave of the first president of Indonesia, Sukarno. On our walk back to the train station we stopped at the local football stadium and met one of the players, who was actually African and only spoke French! Naturally we commemorated the occasion with a photo shoot. The next week we planned to cook together. One of my PC friends came for a visit and, along with my students, we made spaghetti, bread, brownies, cookies, and fried rice. Nasi goreng (fried rice) was the only Indonesian dish and with 10 Indonesians I thought it would be a cinch. Turns out none of my students knew how to cook fried rice and it was a bit of a flop. But all the recipes I provided were delicious and it was a blast cooking and eating together.

Besides the random activities I do with my students, I also started another weekly English les (informal class) at my house. It’s a speaking les for some of the English club students. I told them they must think of a topic every week and then come ready to speak in English. When they don’t know words we find the English translation and write the new vocabulary on the board. I also correct some pronunciation and grammar errors. It’s been fun so far because in class I have little time to give one-on-one attention to students like that. I also think their confidence is improving as they realize they can speak English. Between speaking les, English club, Friday les with elementary school students and my actual classes I see most of these students 3-4 times a week. Hanging out with them is my favorite part of my job, and I’m grateful.

During March I also took a quick trip to Jogja with one of the English teachers and one of my students. The highlights of the trip were retrieving my fixed computer, shopping for souvenirs for my peeps in America, and watching one of my favorite students experience a big city for the first time. Watching her try to keep her balance on the bumpy bus (while everyone else remained calm, cool, and collected on their daily commute) as she described herself as “orang deso” (“village person” spoken in a Javanese accent) was just priceless. I also got to visit my language teacher from my pre-service training and see the organization where the language teachers came from, Wisma Bahasa. It is a really neat organization which teaches a variety of local languages (in addition to bahasa Indonesia, of course) and they do volunteer work teaching English to street children and kids in orphanages. In addition to their language classes they have cultural classes for their students in cooking, making batik, Javanese traditional dance, and more. Last but definitely not least, they have highspeed wifi and coffee/tea/water available for their students. (And that last sentence just goes to show what I get excited about after a year of not living in America.)

April is kind of a big deal because it marks ONE YEAR IN INDONESIA. I left home March 31st, had staging April 1st, left America April 2nd, and arrived in Indonesia on April 4th. Look for a one-year post coming soon, but for now suffice to say…time flies. And April isn’t slowing down. I had a meeting last week in Surabaya and I’m headed back this next weekend to greet the new volunteers, ID7! It’s simultaneously crazy and awesome to know that there’s a new group here. Crazy because I can’t help but wonder how did I become the old, veteran volunteer?! And awesome because I’m excited to have new people to join our group and (fingers crossed) hopefully some new neighbors come June. Next weekend is also our party to say farewell to ID5. They will be here til June but will be sticking close to home in their communities to finish wrapping things up so April is the last time for our groups to see each other. Immediately after our welcome/goodbye parties we have national exams for 12th graders…meaning no school. Not quite sure what I’ll be up to then but at the end of that same week I will be participating in iGLOW camp – Indonesian Girls Leading Our World. I’m thrilled to be bringing 8 of my students and I’m so excited about the different topics and speakers. More on this to come…The rest of April will equally fly by. If I’m invited, I may get to help with ID7’s training and pass on a little bit of what I’ve learned after a year here.

Then it’s May, the month of birthdays and graduations and celebrations. My school has big plans for me to star in a Javanese drama and have my very own kebaya (Javanese formal wear) made to wear to graduation.

And after May it will be June and I get to come home to see all the people I love and be in a wedding that I wouldn’t miss for the world. I think about it everyday and am so excited.

In between teaching and meetings and such I have been reading lots of books (thanks especially to the Bankers’ recommendations) and watching TV shows (finally got on the Downton Abbey train) and more. Though I’ve been busy I also have plenty of time to relax and I’m grateful for that. Here’s to hoping I can use some of that time to blog more consistently in the future!


Pantai Parangritis: Through the Lens

Post-December travels I came back to site, only to be informed that the following week the teachers would be attending a “workshop” in Jogjakarta, Central Java. Not sure where the “work” part came in but it was a blast to spend time with the teachers and their families. Our first stop after an all-night bus ride was Parangritis Beach in its misty, sleepy, early-morning glory.



From the top: My first view of Parangritis, horses available for horseback riding along the beach (something I wish I had done but was a little scared to do), my counterpart’s kids racing down the beach, the other side of the beach where a wave nearly killed my camera, walking through the waves, my CP’s son, my CP’s daughter.


Kalimantan: Through the Lens

Did I used to be good at blogging? I don’t really remember those days. Well, here’s a trip through the lens for you to see a glimpse of one my most favorite experiences I’ve ever had: going on a 4 day houseboat trip down the river through the jungle of Tanjung Puting National Park (Central Kalimantan) to see the orangutans.





Malu orangutan.











For more photos, see my facebook album.

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Best Books of 2012

Reading is my hobby of choice – and it has been since I started reading as a toddler. This photo can serve as proof that while most kids were playing with dolls or Legos, you could find me curled up on the couch with a book.


But despite the fact that I am a voracious reader (though I got nothing on my friend Emily), I often forget which books I have read. Last January I had the brilliant idea to start tracking which books I read as I went. I was inspired by my dad (who does the same), my favorite neighborhood librarian Rod, and the Powell’s staff picks best books of 2011 list (there’s definitely some overlap with my 2012 list). Anyway, I got lazy and forgetful and didn’t actually manage to track every book I read (I also started using GoodReads, which is awesome, but even with two lists of the books I was reading, I still couldn’t keep track!) but the final count of books read (and tracked) in 2012 is 54. Odds are I actually read a handful more, but if they didn’t make the list they clearly were not that memorable. After reviewing these books, I narrowed my list down to my 10 favorite, most memorable, thought-provoking, interesting, or just plain old entertaining books.



  1. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. After a near-death experience due to pneumonia at age 25, Dillard took a year to live alone in the Virginia backwoods and she chronicles her experience, season by season, in this book. This may be the single best book I read all year. Reading this book was like balm for my soul. I took months reading it, and I savored every sentence. Dillard described nature on a micro and macro level with intensity and clarity, while weaving in references to literature and Scripture and culture and throwing in some factoids to boot. This book is, in a word, Profound. It is a book I hope to always have on hand.
  2. Under_the_Banner_of_Heaven
    Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Kraukeur. This is a fascinating book about Mormon Fundamentalism and the history of the Mormon Church. Ever since taking Sociology of Religion in college, I’ve been fascinated with studying religious groups and Kraukeur’s account both intrigued and disturbed me. Highly recommended.
  3. OmnivoresDilemma_full
    The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. I heard Pollan’s name come up over and over again in the nutrition classes I took in college and I finally had a chance to read one of his books. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan traces the origins and processes that create four different meals. In the process he investigates the difference between conventional and organic farming, he dabbles in vegetarianism, and he hunts for his own mushrooms – among other adventures. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Of course, at times it is simplistic and at other times you can see Pollan’s bias but there will always be a bias (and I tend to agree with much of what he says). If one image has stuck with me months after reading this it is the farm in California. When I get back to the States I hope I will have a different relationship with food – in part because of this book. Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in food and food systems.
  4. 9partsofdesire
    9 Parts of Desire: The Hidden Lives of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks. Fascinating account about the lives of Muslim women in the Middle East. Brooks is not Muslim but she ties in the Koran often in an informative and respectful way. I gained a lot from reading this book while living in a Muslim country, even though it’s not in the Middle East.
  5. lustintranslation
    Lust in Translation by Pamela Druckerman. Druckerman is a journalist and world traveler who found herself intrigued by marriage relationships – and extra-marital relationships – in different countries that she visited. So, she embarked on a study of love affairs across different cultures. I found this book in the sociology section at Powell’s and it was a fascinating read. The downside is that there’s not a ton of data out there, but she does a great job of citing her sources and describing methodology. Plus, she’s funny.
Honorable Mentions:


– The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. This book came highly recommended to me by Charis back when we were college roommates. She had to read it for one of her nursing classes and when I joined my mom, dad, and sister for Becca’s college visit to Carroll College the book showed up again as required reading for one of Carroll’s nursing classes (Becca’s intended major). We bought the book there and I read it before Becca took it to college. Fadiman tells the tale of Hmong immigrants from Laos who moved to California and their struggle to survive in a new land while maintaining their strong cultural identity. Fadiman hones in on their experiences receiving medical care because traditional Hmong medical practices have consistently clashed with American medical standards with sometimes disastrous results. This book is a little dense because it’s rather academic and requires concentration but it’s well worth the read.


– Little Princes by Conor Grennan. This is Grennan’s account of his life-changing journey to Nepal where he worked in an orphanage with adorable little Nepalese children who turned out to not really be orphans after all. Little Princes chronicles Grennan’s journey to find the families of these children. I loved the story, I loved the storytelling. I laughed, I cried, I couldn’t put it down. It reminded me of my own dreams and encouraged me. Nepal is now on my list of countries to visit.





1. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. This book was first recommended to me by my good friend Michael and I didn’t think about it again until I noticed my friend Matt reading it here in Indonesia. I borrowed the book from him and I devoured it. McCann’s story begins with a man walking on a tightrope between the two Twin Towers in New York city. Bystanders are perplexed, amazed, and enthralled, and so is the reader. Then suddenly the story shifts and McCann introduces a new character…and then another and another. Eventually, these characters all weave together in a brilliant and beautiful tapestry. Amazing.


2. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. I first read MacDonald for one of my theology classes in college when I read The Princess and Curdie which is actually the sequel to this book. Thus, I was familiar with the characters and MacDonald’s writing style but the story was new. I loved it. It made me feel like I was in another world and like I was at home, all at once. It was comforting, familiar, but also new. In my opinion, MacDonald’s writing is classically brilliant and I can’t wait to read more.


3. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. I have DeeDee to thank for this book because she handed it to me when she finished it and said, “This book is great, read it!” I am so glad I did. I couldn’t put it down, and I was so drawn into the story. I laughed, I wept, and I felt like I knew the characters. The story takes place in Ethiopia and begins with an unlikely relationship that forms between a chaste nun and a brilliant, haunted, and socially inept doctor with little interest in forming any ties with another human being. Verghese ties in the turbulent Ethiopian history of the times which determines the fate of several characters. This is a well-crafted and thought-provoking story of the repercussions of bitterness and the meaning of reconciliation (or sometimes lack therefore).


4. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I found this book topping Powell’s list of best books from 2011 so I eagerly checked it out from the library. It gripped me, and I couldn’t really figure out why. It read like pulp fiction, but it was actually good writing (Eugenides previously won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Middlesex which I also read this year and thoroughly enjoyed). The story begins on college graduation day in 1982 and follows a number of recent graduates as they embark on their post-college adventures, travels, and occasional disasters. Reading this in the year after I graduated (and as I set out on my own travels and adventures) felt very timely and relatable, even though the story is set a few decades in the past. Warning that there is quite a bit of sex in this book.


5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I’m sure I read some of these stories before but I did not remember them and they are BRILLIANT. I especially loved reading them after having watched BBC’s series entitled Sherlock. Each episode is a modern retelling of one of Doyle’s short stories and both are excellent in their own right.

Honorable Mentions:

– Every book by Margaret Atwood that I read this year:


– Oryx and Crake: This is the first book in Atwood’s MaddAdam trilogy – her latest works. It’s set in a gritty, post-apolcalyptic world but full of flash backs to a time before tragedy strikes. The story centers around three main characters: Jimmy, Oryx, and Crake. I won’t say more because it’s best just to read this. For me, this was a little hard to get into, but it’s worth it and (IMHO) the sequel is even better.


– The Year of the Flood: This is the sequel to Oryx and Crake – the second book in her MaddAdam trilogy. This was more gripping than O&C. This book doesn’t pick up where it’s prequel left off – on the contrary the stories are subtly woven together and Atwood continues to richly illustrate her futuristic, post-apoloyptic world. I can’t wait to read the culmination of the story in MaddAdam, the third book (to be released in 2013).


– The Blind Assassin: I read this many years ago and remembered loving it but I had forgotten the plot line. When I picked it up again I was sucked right back in and thoroughly enjoyed it. Atwood weaves together several story lines from the past and the (then) present day with a story centered on two sisters. I won’t say more – just read it. Highly recommended.


– The Handmaid’s Tale: This has been on my to-read list for quite a while. For some reason I imagined it to be set in 16th century England or something but it was pure Atwood and definitely NOT a piece of historical fiction. It made me rather sad and depressed but it’s still an excellent book that would provide great fodder for feminist discussion.

Actually, The Blind Assassin made the list of Top 5 Fiction books but I removed it because I read it back in high school and the five books listed above were new to me in 2012. Atwood is a brilliant author and if this list was a list of my favorite authors from 2012, Atwood would win, hands down. One of my 2013 goals is to read every book by her that I can get my hands on.

Imperfect Birds

– Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott. The first Lamott book I read was Traveling Mercies, Lamott’s memoir about her journey to faith, which was required reading in one of my college classes. Traveling Mercies sparked great conversation (and a good amount of controversy) amongst my classmates and it left quite an impact on me. Since then I’ve been meaning to read all of Lamott’s books and finally I got around to reading Imperfect Birds. This is a novel by Lamott about a mother and her teenage daughter and their beautiful, strained, messed-up, loving relationship. The mother has her share of issues (a former depressed alcoholic with relationship difficulties) that at times blind her to the reality of raising her teenage daughter – a beautiful and bright straight-A student whose secret life is filled with drama, drugs, and boys. I loved this book because it felt familiar. Though my own high school years were pretty different from the picture painted in this book, it was still very relatable because Lamott has a gift for creating real, tangible, flawed, likable characters.

Looking Ahead to 2013…

I’m halfway through two books at the moment (couldn’t quite finish them in time to add to the 2012 list!). One is another Lamott book: Bird by Bird – Lamott’s words of wisdom to inspiring writers. I’m not an inspiring writer but I just love reading Lamott’s writing and think much of what she has to say applies to life beyond the written word. And secondly, I’m reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo…finally! I have been meaning to read this book for years! I’m a full 42% into it (thanks Kindle) which equates to 750 pages…and I have another 1000 to go. I am loving it, though, and I can’t wait to watch the old musical rendition before I (at some point) see the new movie which I am hearing rave reviews about (oh, to be in America, where I could see films whenever I wanted). Les Mis may be the longest book I’ve read to date and it may just make an appearance on next year’s list…until then, happy reading!


Oppa Gangnam Style!

So, if you haven’t heard yet, I recently made my grand debut as a dancer by performing “Gangnam Style” onstage with my students…in front of hundreds and hundreds of people. The video is above, for your viewing pleasure. If you know me you probably know I am not a natural dancer. I usually have two left feet and no sense of rhythm. I can hardly even clap and sing at the same time. So what led me to voluntarily agree to dance onstage? Especially in a country where I’m constantly trying to stay OUT of the limelight and avoid being the center of attention?

That’s a good question. To be honest, I’m not really sure what came over me but it boils down to the fact that I thought it would be fun to hang out more with my students. So I said I would try to learn the dance and I nearly died the first day we had practice. (Note that I agreed to doing the dance before I actually watched the video of the flash mob we modeled our dance on.) It was SO HARD. I stood in the back of the room, watching my students count “Tu-A-Ga-Pat!” (the abbreviated version of one-two-three-four) and strut their stuff, shake their hips, and I thought, “This is insanity. I can hardly even Cupid Shuffle.” But I was committed. So I got the file from my students (copyright = the right to copy?) and I studied the dance at home. For hours. I practiced in my room with the door closed. I practiced in the mandi. I practiced whenever I thought people weren’t looking. And of course, I practiced with my students three days a week after school. The phrase “red as a lobster” gained new meaning for me after these practices. My face literally blended in with the red of my school sports uniform. (Also, I’ve never sweat more in my life.)

And, slowly but surely, I got it! My counterpart watched our practice one day and told the students that I had the most attitude while dancing, and they should imitate me. This marks the first time in my life anyone has wanted to imitate me dancing (although, Erin, do you remember my famous cat move in high school? I’ve come a long way). And it wasn’t long after that that I was berani (brave) enough to move from the back to the front. But even all that practice didn’t stop my knees from knocking on the day of our performance. It was a long 12 minutes waiting on stage during the first part of our “SMANSA’s Got Talent – Dance Edition” show. My students split into 4 groups of performers and did 4 short dances (to the Macarena – which I taught them in class, Goyang Duyu – a popular Indonesian dance here, CherryBelle – Indonesia’s version of K (Korean) pop, and last but not least one student singing Neng Nong Neng – something I had never heard before but I guess it’s popular here) before Gangnam Style – the grand finale! Our dance was based on a video of a flash mob at Cornell University (you can look it up on youtube) and due to a typical typo we were listed on the line-up as “flash mop.” But, really, no flash mob or mop here, just me and lots of students dancing away.

And it was a success! I had a blast. I love spending time with my students and, before our school birthday, I hadn’t done a lot with this particular class. Now we’re tight. J Below is a slideshow that I put together with all the different pictures I had of the activities this class did during the week. Since they were my counterpart’s homeroom class, I hung out with them a lot and I made sure that all their activities were well documented. The first day back at school we showed this video to the class and it was a big hit.

So, to sum it all up, I’m really glad I did it. I pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone for sure, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to join Peace Corps, right? I never thought that would come in the form of Gangnam Style, but life is full of surprises. :)